The bishops of England and Wales have pleaded for fairness in the possible rationing of healthcare to Covid-19 patients amid rising fears that protective and life-saving equipment is running out.
The bishops acknowledged that while tough decisions must be made in the current pandemic, age should not be the only criteria for deciding which patients receive treatment.
The bishops of England and Wales said life-or-death decisions, such as a ‘decision against offering a certain life-prolonging treatment to an individual, must never be a judgement based on the worthwhileness of that person’s life, including their age or other social characteristics, but a pragmatic decision about the likelihood of him/her benefiting from the intervention given their medical condition’.
‘Human value is not a measure of our mental or physical capacity, our societal function, our age, our health or of any other qualitative assessment,’ said the statement, which was signed by Bishop Richard Moth, chair of the Department for Social Justice; Bishop Paul Mason, lead Bishop for Healthcare and Mental Health; and Bishop John Sherrington, lead Bishop for Life Issues.
The bishops called for transparency in the allocation of treatment while noting that the demand on the NHS resources ‘is outstripping supply and those responsible for our care and well-being are facing challenging decisions’.
They also urged people with underlying health conditions to discuss the sort of treatment they may want with their families so that good communication is possible in a crisis.
‘Each of us may be presented with clinical scenarios which are both unwelcome and distressing, yet doctors are faced with making the least-worst decisions,’ they said. ‘This approach helps us to focus on the common good.
‘Similarly, Catholics will focus on the benefit of a treatment for the person taking into consideration all medical factors. This, again, helps us to focus on the common good of all and best meets the principles of justice and equality,’ they added.
The bishops insisted that ‘clear communication with the sick and their loved ones is essential throughout this process, and staff will need to deal sensitively with those affected’.
‘We pray for them as they strive to serve both the patient and our wider society, and we thank them for their hard work and commitment.
‘We must always be mindful of the spiritual care of patients and their families, as well as of health and social care staff. Our chaplains have a particular role in this regard, but we will all know someone for whom we can pray and offer support.’
Picture: Paramedics and staff at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital wearing various items of PPE as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Peter Byrne/PA).